Winter is a good time to go inward, to reorient ourselves and connect with the spirit of the land. During these months we will emphasize the essential aspects of shifting into a state of deeper awareness—the Tracker Mind. This shift is something we will learn to do each time we prepare to go out into nature, and eventually we will learn to carry this into every moment of our lives.
Part 1: The Words Before All Else
This is the gateway to nature awareness: acknowledgement of our gratitude towards the earth and the abundance it brings to our lives. This is the spirit of humility which allows us to hold an ever-questioning mind and constant curiosity, and to embrace a state of “non-expertism”, always ready to be surprised and to learn new and unexpected things about the earth and ourselves. With this essential attitude as our starting point, we will learn to bring our minds together as one, and become part of the interconnectedness of all things. As part of this shifting, we will use aspects of Tom Brown and Stalking Wolf’s Apache-based Sacred Silence meditation, to deepen our grounding into the earth, to quiet our minds and tune into the earth.
Part 2: Entering Awareness
As we learn to ground ourselves and quiet our minds, we will begin a practice of the essential skills of awareness, Fox-walking, Wide-angle vision, sensory intensification, and relaxed breathing. We will study the concept of Concentric Rings, and practice slowing down and lowering our profile, the first steps toward becoming invisible in nature, heightening our awareness, and allowing magical things to happen.
Part 3: Paying Attention and Building Knowledge: Envisioning
With these skills of awareness, we will explore the uses of sit-spots and journaling to enhance and record our detailed observation of the landscape and animal activity. We will study how to orient ourselves on the land and understand the essential dynamics of any landscape. We will learn how to enter the spirit of the land: assessing the terrain, the food and water availability, the plant communities, the likely animals present, the climate and recent weather patterns, and the concept of “lacks and larders”—where animals are likely to be, or not, at any moment. We will learn to think through the minds of the animals and get a sense of what they are doing, what they are eating and where they are sheltering, when they are courting and mating.
With Spring, we will move more to the land itself and work on the arts of observation and self-awareness. Spring is a dynamic time of increased activity, of growth, birth, movement and abundance. Substrates are excellent for track detail and learning to read the land.
Part 1: Bird Language and Baseline Awareness
As we move into the land, we will practice keeping part of our attention on the calls and movements of the birds in any particular landscape and notice what they can tell us about the patterns of animal activity in the present moment. Birds are called the “voice of the forest” because they are constantly communicating with each other about current conditions and the threats of predators. We will pay attention to songs, calls and alarms and study the feeling of baseline behavior and how to notice behavior and calls that are out of baseline and might draw our attention to things that are beyond our own perceptual limits.
Part 2: The Three Perspectives
We will practice this essential orientation toward tracks and nature, learning to see any landscape we are entering from three viewpoints: flying, standing, and kneeling. We will learn to always be holding an awareness of the land with an overview, with a sense of contextual awareness, as if we were flying over and mapping it out.
From this point of view, we can move in closer to a middle view of scenario analysis-scanning the area from a standing view, sometimes stepping back to take in everything that is going on in a particular area.
Finally we can zoom in close for a detailed examination of the scene down at ground level, of track and sign details that make more sense with our overview, our contextual understanding. From this point of view we will return full cycle to maintaining a variable awareness and learn how to avoid getting “focus-locked” and missing important parts of the picture. At the same time we will explore the whole art of seeing.
Part 3: The Wall
From this point, we will begin to take our first steps into how the ground records the movements of animals, and how animals actually move, and what baseline behavior means in animal movement. From our close-up views, we will begin to examine minute details in the ground and tracks.
We will also explore how to deal with our frustrations when we hit “the Wall”, the limits of our understanding and perception. By going back to the beginning and using the tools of the Tracker Mind to slow down and open up we will learn how to move through our tiredness and reach new levels of curiosity, group perception, and awareness.
As the year progresses and the days lengthen, it is a good time to emphasize physical tracking. It’s an easy time to be outside, winds not withstanding, and animal life is in full swing, along with plant growth, from the grasses to the trees. We will focus on tracks, gaits and substrates
Part 1: Aspects of tracking-track and foot morphology
Here we will focus on species lists, foot design, track families and track shapes. This is the world of track identification, working from the universal principle that foot morphology is designed precisely for the ecological niche of the species. This is the basic world of track identification
Part 2: Aspects of tracking-gaits and baseline
This is the world of preferred movement patterns of each species and the meaning of exceptions to this baseline. We will explore how movement relates to animal habits, the meaning of efficiency and understanding gait changes. Through several innovated techniques we will practice and internalize gaits and gait patterns and learn how animals move to create those patterns
Part 3: Aspects of tracking-pressure releases, substrates, weather and aging tracks
Pressure releases are where tracks begin to speak-in a sense they are the “voice of the tracks”. Pressure releases are the infinitely complex ways that the ground responds to the pressure of feet during movement. It is one of the most fascinating aspects of tracking. In addition, we will look into how tracks age and break down over time and how to recognize a fresh trail.
As the summer begins to wind down and fade into fall, we enter a particularly good time to emphasize the study of all the signs animals leave of their presence. It is a broad world with endless aspects and is really where awareness brings nature to life.
Part 1: Sign tracking-scat I.D. and analysis
We will make a careful study of different types of animal scat and what it can tell us. By noting such details as placement, contents, aging, and accumulations, we can learn a great deal about the animals’ ranges, what they are eating and where their food is, and how they are communicating with each other.
Part 2: Sign tracking-feeding sign
This is the huge world of browse signs, chews, scrapes, nibbles and pecks.
The signs of animal feeding can be found everywhere in nature and can tell us a great deal about what animals are present in a particular area and what they are doing.
Part 3: Sign tracking-digs, runs, burrows, scrapes, rubs, and nests
This aspect of sign tracking involves how animals are physically interacting with their surroundings. It is another extremely rich area of study and can be very precise and specific.
Part 4: Kill site analysis
This is an always fascinating source of information in nature. We will examine mammal and bird carcasses to learn how different predators work and what kinds of patterns of remains are left. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the skeletal structures of birds and mammals and to learn more about feather I.D. and structure.
TRANSITION INTO WINTER
As we finish the cycle of the seasons and reflect on what we have learned, it will be a good time to pay attention to what we are getting out of this practice of tracking and awareness.
We will reflect on how connecting more deeply with nature helps us connect more deeply with ourselves, and how it helps us develop more skills in dealing with our own stress and distractions. We will see that it is possible to do everything from a tracker’s state of mind, helping us deal with panic, frustration and grief in our everyday lives with the ultimate skills of living in the present moment and living with gratitude. We ultimately discover that everything in life involves tracking.